New York Lawyer's Legal Updates

Immigration Reform: Amnesty Or Crisis?

Author: NYC Immigration Lawyer Alena Shautsova

Biden began his term with swift action to alter the state of the immigration system of the United States. After passing executive orders and sending prospective legislation to Congress, the administration already has a migration crisis on its hands.

Last week the Dream Act hit the floor of the House for discussion. The proposal offers migrants with Temporary Protected Status and approximately one million other undocumented people, that currently live in the US, a legal right to work and a pathway to citizenship. Despite having some bipartisan support, there has been visceral opposition to the bill.

Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnel openly stated that he and his Republican colleagues in the Senate would not vote on the Dream Act back in 2019. Attitudes amongst many sitting Republicans have not changed. When it’s high time, Republican Senators are expected to filibuster the bill to prevent its passing.

Some feel that providing any pathway to citizenship -irrespective of how arduous the route may be – would send too welcoming a sign to prospective immigrants. U-turns on immigration draw more people over the border.

Could there be something to this thinking? Perhaps.

Well, the US-Mexico border hasn’t looked this lively for years. The New York Times is reporting that a growing perception of the Whitehouse, as more migrant-friendly, might be responsible for propelling thousands of new arrivals over the southwestern border.

Families are moving up into Mexican border towns, sleeping rough in wait. Large groups have been spotted attempting to scale a border fence. The camps are growing daily. According to locals, the migrant camp at Matamoros, Mexico, just over a bridge from Texas, has expanded by 1,000 people in two weeks. Of course, these people await the prospect of entry to the US.

Biden’s administration seems to be suffering from somewhat of a perfect storm. As Biden began his musings on immigration, the Mexican authorities made legal changes of their own that would impact on the US’ ability to handle incoming migrants.

Against a backdrop of international applause, the Mexican Government passed legislation that ensures that migrant families with children under the age of 12 cannot be detained. The Mexican Government moved to grant the children of these families provisional legal status to avoid the immediate possibility of deportation to their home country. Under the Trump administration, increasing pressure had been placed on authorities to detain and deport those held at the US-Mexico border back to their home nation. Now, this is no longer a possibility.

Families in flight of environmental catastrophe and the presence of gang culture - predominantly from Guatemala and Honduras – set out north to the US-Mexico border every day. Out of fear of a large caravan, the previous administration had pressurised Mexico into an aggressive approach - stemming the flow north.

With the advent of Biden and Harris, the mood music has softened and the Mexican Government, it seems, has taken this opportunity to partially unshackle herself from the awkward restraints of containing a continents-worth of migrant seeking sanctuary in the United States.

In recent weeks, Mexico has begun to enforce its new law in ways that are troublesome for the Border Patrol and USCIS. The new bar on holding children aged 12 means that Mexico has stopped taking Central American families with young children back over the US-Mexico border. Despite inter-governmental sensitivities around the coronavirus pandemic, Border Patrol released over 1,000 migrants into Texas last week. Under prior arrangements, these people would have been detained in Mexico to await their next step.

President Biden’s administration is certain about its reform plans. A spokesman for the administration said:

Unfortunately there are thousands of people and families — including many at the border — who are still suffering thanks to the cruel and ineffective policies that the Trump administration put in place… Fully remedying these actions will take time and require a full-government approach.

This administration seeks to go the whole hog on immigration reform. The Dream Act is just a toe in the water. A package is going to follow. But substantive change, beyond a sanitised version of the Dream Act or some such other proposal, that sees the kind of welcoming America we all want may only be achieved if Biden allays the fears of his opponents. The Mexican Government have legislated in a way that makes the migration corridor wider, and in disallowing the detention of families bearing young children there will be more pressure placed on the DHS. The administration should recognise this and offer some reconciliation to legislators who have been sceptical about the President's plans for reform. If their fears, which may or may not turn out to be substantive, are recognised, immigration reform might be achieved. If Republicans feel they are being disregarded then I suspect the Senate will try their best to talk any reform to death.

The Immigration reform should offer special relief to certain groups of immigrants such as DACA and TPS holders, parents of US citizen children, COVID-repsonders and essential workers. It should address the main roadblocks to adjustment of status such as bar on adjustment due to lack of inspection or admission or parole, and unlawful presence. The thing is that both Democrats and Republicans live in the same country, where undocumented immigrants live with them, and one cannot truly believe that they can achieve an American Dream, porseperty and justice, when there are millions of residents who are suffering every day to the lack of ability to fix their Immigration status. It is time for all to work together, and the time is NOW.

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10 February 2021
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